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What is radical compassion?

According to philosopher Khen Lampert, radical compassion is a specific kind of empathy directed towards the distress of others. This type of empathy is called radical because it includes the inner imperative to change reality in order to alleviate the pain of others. According to Lampert, this state of mind is universal and stands at the root of the historical cry for social change. Radical compassion means total compassion with nothing excluded. Radical self-compassion applies this empathy to the self. Here are 3 practices for exercising radical self-compassion for the wellbeing of yourself and all living things.


Dr. Kristin Neff notes that touching activates the care system and the parasympathetic nervous system to help calm down and feel safe. That is why physical self-soothing is a simple and effective way to soothe and comfort ourselves in times of high anxiety or distress. Dr. Neff advises trying this exercise for at least a week. 

Place one or two hands over your heart. Breathe deeply while placing your attention to the rising and falling of your chest, the warmth and gentle pressure of your hands on your body, and the feeling that this practice offers. 

If placing your hand over your heart feels uncomfortable, try some of the following alternatives. 

  1. Cradling your face in your hands

  2. Crossing your arms and giving yourself a hug or gentle squeeze

  3. One hand on your abdomen and the other placed over your heart

Self-compassion is a practice of goodwill, not good feelings… With self-compassion we mindfully accept that the moment is painful, and embrace ourselves with kindness and care in response, remembering that imperfection is part of the shared human experience.

— Dr. Kristin Neff


An acronym created by Dr. Tara Brach that stands for:

Recognize (R) what is happening in my body and mind – the anxious thoughts and feelings ruminating, or the tension that might exist in your face, jaw, or shoulders. 

Allow (A) what is happening without judgment. You don’t have to like how you are feeling, but try to allow it to be without the intention to fix or change anything.

Investigate (I) the feelings of anxiety. Find out more about what it is you are feeling and where it is coming from. Ask your anxious mind what it fears, then ask yourself what you need.  

Nurture (N) the anxious parts of you. Speak to your anxious self and remind them that they are okay, safe, and loved. Give yourself the comfort that you need. 

This practice can be exercised anywhere at any time intended to bring mindfulness to moments of distress.

Practice 3: write a letter to yourself

Have you ever noticed how you talk to a friend who is struggling? Usually, when it comes to other people, especially people who we care about, compassion for suffering comes naturally. Why is it that when we speak to ourselves we often lose that gentleness, understanding, and compassion? Through letter writing, and accessing the perspective of your “higher self”, “compassionate self”, or “Self”, you are capable of comforting yourself as you would comfort a loved one. 

  1. First, create a mental image of (or draw) an imaginary friend. This friend represents the radical self-compassion that already exists in you, who is unconditionally accepting and compassionate. This friend knows it all; they give compassion for all the things that have happened in your life to create you as who you are in this moment. 

  2. Next, set a timer for 5 to 10 minutes and write about what you’re struggling with right now. With an objective approach, write down any self-judgments, criticisms, stressors, and areas of discomfort. 

  3. Last, write a letter to yourself from the perspective of your compassionate self, or imaginary friend. Think about how you would react to a close friend who is struggling. How would you respond? What tone would you use? Remember that this compassionate self advocates for you, they are rooting for your health and happiness. 


  • I am so overwhelmed, there is so much to do and worry about.

  • I know, and you don’t have to do it alone. Asking for help is courageous and an act of self-love.

This practice can also be used in a conversation style. Write one sentence from the perspective of your anxious self, and respond from the perspective of your compassionate self. Try this exercise once or twice a week and notice what shifts.

Have you joined our self-compassion journal challenge? Click here to sign up! And click here to catch up on our 4 part self-compassion writing series.


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